News in Brief: A National Roundup
Private Voucher Program For 50,000 Pupils Launched
Former Walt Disney Co. President Michael Ovitz and a handful of other business leaders announced donations of more than $19 million last week to a privately financed voucher program aimed at offering scholarships to as many as 50,000 poor students over the next four years.
New York City investor Theodore J. Forstmann and Wal-Mart heir John Walton started the Children's Scholarship Fund and together pledged $100 million to help enable parents to send their children to private schools. ("Millionaires To Back National Voucher Project," June 10, 1998.)
The largest of its kind, the program is seeking to raise $200 million by garnering matching funds to aid existing scholarship programs and create new ones.
The recipients will be chosen by lottery in 30 to 50 cities in the spring of 1999. The program will offer $1,000 to low-income families, with an average income of $18,000. Families will be responsible for meeting additional tuition costs.
Contributions have been matched already in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Jersey City, N.J., and Washington.
Waco Pupils Fill Summer School
About one out of five 1st through 8th graders in Waco, Texas, will find themselves sitting in summer school, beginning this week.
Under a policy instituted last fall, any pupil in those grades who fails any of three criteria for promotion must attend the three-week session before advancing to the next grade. Students must pass the state's basic-skills test or a similar test for 1st and 2nd graders, have passing report card grades, and have 90 percent attendance.
Completion of summer school, which will cost the district about $1 million, will allow students to erase the grade and attendance deficits. Students needing to pass the basic-skills exam may retake it after summer school. Fewer than 15 percent of the summer school pupils are expected to have to repeat a grade in the fall.
Waco officials believe their 16,000-student district is the only one in the state to take such an action, which affects about 1,995 children out of the district's 1-8 enrollment of some 9,600.
Officials want "to assure that the students learn the basic skills before they're passed on without the knowledge they need" and before they must take the state's graduation exam in 10th grade, said Carol Perry, a district spokeswoman.
N.Y.C. School Gets $1 Million
The Bronx High School of Science in New York City received a $1 million donation last week from two graduates.
Brothers Leonard A. Lauder and Ronald S. Lauder, top cosmetic executives at Estee Lauder Companies Inc., donated the money in support of a campaign seeking to raise $10 million for an endowment fund at the 2,800-student public school.
The Lauders' donation follows closely a pledge from alumni of Brooklyn Technical High School to raise money for a $10 million endowment for that city school. ("Public Schools Cashing In on Alumni Giving," April 8, 1998.)
Administrators' Suit Settled
The New York City school administrators' union has settled its lawsuit with the district over staff vacancies, after the system agreed to fill current and future supervisory vacancies within six months of posting.
At issue in the suit, brought by the 4,500-member New York Council of Supervisors and Administrators in April 1997, were more than 300 supervisory-staff positions in the 1.1 million-student system that had been vacant for up to five years, according to Bruce K. Bryant, a lawyer for the administrators' group.
Many of those vacancies, Mr. Bryant said, have opened as school leaders left for greener pastures in suburban districts.
Donald Singer, the group's president, hailed the May 20 settlement as a victory for New York City children. New York City schools spokesman J.D. LaRock would not comment on the settlement.
Atlantic City Chief Removed
A New Jersey superintendent who feuded with the state over the safety of 5th graders at a city middle school has been removed.
The Atlantic City school board this month voted to inform Superintendent H. Benjamin Williams that his contract would not be renewed. His short tenure with the 7,200-student district began in March 1997.
Mr. Williams last fall engaged in a tug of war with the state education department over the Albany Avenue School, which opened to serve 5th through 8th graders from the whole city. The superintendent resisted the state's efforts to move the 5th graders out of the violence-plagued school. ("Makeup of Atlantic City Middle School at Issue," Nov. 12, 1997.) A judge subsequently ordered their removal.
The board voted 7-3 to place the superintendent on administrative leave immediately, deciding to void his contract that would have expired in 2000. Mr. Williams could not be reached for comment.
More Turnover in Hartford
New chapters in the leadership saga of the Hartford, Conn., district continue to be written at a fast pace.
Two weeks after Hartford's state-appointed school board accepted the resignation of Superintendent Patricia Daniel, the Connecticut district learned that the education official appointed as her temporary replacement has accepted another job. ("Embattled Hartford, Conn., Superintendent Resigns," May 27, 1998.)
Interim Superintendent Benjamin Dixon, who had worked closely with the 25,500-student system as a deputy state education commissioner, will leave in August to become a vice president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va. State officials said last week, however, that Mr. Dixon never expected to stay at his current post more than 90 days.
At the same time, a state ethics commission is investigating the board's appointment of a former member to the district's No. 2 post. Ana-Maria Garcia resigned from the board to become the district's chief administrative officer last month.
Now the ethics commission is looking into whether the action violated rules forbidding state officials from using their positions for personal or financial gain. The probe was announced as the local news media reported that Ms. Garcia has failed to pay local property and other taxes.
Ms. Garcia could not be reached for comment.
Former Administrator Indicted
The former finance chief for the Sumter, S.C., schools has been indicted on charges of embezzling more than $2 million of district funds.
Court documents allege that Adolph Joseph Klein, who served as the assistant superintendent for fiscal affairs in Sumter School District 17 from 1977 until last year, submitted false invoices to the district for payment using as many as 14 existing and invented companies over a period of 10 years.
If convicted, he faces up to 105 years in prison and a substantial fine.
Mr. Klein, 51, was put on leave and then resigned from his post last fall, after a routine district audit revealed problems, according to a spokesman for state Attorney General Charlie Condon.
He was released on a $50,000 bond last week pending a court date that had not been set. Mr. Klein could not be reached for comment.
Teacher Disciplined for Threat
As schools nationwide take a zero-tolerance stance toward threats of violence, one teacher is back in school after learning the hard way that educators are just as accountable for their words as students are. ("Officials Take No Chances After Killings," June 3, 1998.)
Dan Bowerly, a band teacher at Ranier Middle School in Auburn, Wash., allegedly threatened to kill several students at the 720-student school, though he later told his superiors he was joking.
While on cafeteria duty on May 27, he told a group of students to clear their tables; when they asked what would happen if they refused, he said he would give them detention, according to Linda Cowan, the district superintendent.
When they asked what would happen if they still refused, he said he would assign two detentions. When pressed further, he said: "'If you wanted to argue it some more, I'd take you out and shoot you,'" Ms. Cowan said.
Within an hour of making those comments, Mr. Bowerly apologized to the students and said he'd been joking, she said.
But Ms. Cowan, who put Mr. Bowerly on three days of administrative leave while she investigated, said the district's no-tolerance policy on threats applies equally to students and teachers.
"Our investigation did find he had no action intended whatsoever, he was extremely apologetic, contrite, repentant, sorry, and if there was any way he could take it back, he would have," she said.
Vol. 17, Issue 40, Page 4Published in Print: June 17, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup